State of emergency to go into effect Saturday

As Hurricane Irene nears, Riverhead Town has declared that a state of emergency will be in effect beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday.

The emergency declaration gives the town the authority to order mandatory evacuations for residents in low lying areas near water, although the town is currently proposing only non-mandatory evacuations for those residents and residents in mobile homes, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said Friday afternoon.

“We’re not going to force anyone from their homes,” he said.

The American Red Cross will have an emergency shelter open at Riverhead High School starting at 10 a.m. Saturday, Mr. Walter said, adding that residents should first seek to stay with a friend or relative before choosing to stay at the emergency shelter.

“The shelter is a last resort,” he said. “It will not be comfortable in there. The safest place for them to be is in a home.”

There will be buses made available to any mobile home residents who would prefer to go to the emergency shelter, Mr. Walter said.

Those who are seeking shelter should bring supplies with them to the shelter. Supplies should include medication, blankets, flashlights, snacks and water, officials said.

The state of emergency order will prohibit all but emergency vehicles from driving on roads in the town, and will give the town the ability to execute contracts with private businesses on an emergency basis , Mr. Walter said.

“People need to realize that during a storm event, once you have hurricane winds above 55 mph, emergency services are not able to respond because it’s not safe for them. So residents have to make that decision of where they are going to stay no later than [Saturday.],” the supervisor said.

Cars and their drivers are especially susceptible to projectiles in strong winds.

Mr. Walter, Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller and others had been in meetings and on conference calls all day Friday with officials from Suffolk County, the town, the local fire departments, Peconic Bay Medical Center and the Riverhead School District to coordinate their efforts in dealing with the storm.

Irene is expected to bring tropical force winds by Saturday evening and hurricane force winds by Sunday morning. The eye of the storm is expected to pass over Nassau County as a Category I hurricane, which has winds of between 73 and 95 mph, according to the National Weather Service’s latest notice.